Friday, August 1, 2008

Congress Passes Overdue Higher Education Bill

The House and Senate reauthorized the Higher Education Act today for the first time since 1998. HR+ 4137, "The Higher Education Reauthorization and College and College Opportunity Act of 2008," passed the House yesterday in a vote of 380 in favor and 49 against. It passed the Senate by a vote of 83 in favor and 8 against. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bipartisan bill addressed almost all facets of the federal government’s involvement in higher education. The bill tackled such issues as the simplification of the FAFSA and mandates the Department of Education to generate reports on the most expensive colleges. The colleges that have the largest annual cost increases are required to issue a report to the Department demonstrating why such hikes are necessary and how the institution expects to lower the costs for students.

While a total funding amount was not included in the bill, the overhaul expected to directly cost the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars. And that’s not including the funds that the state governments will need to commit to. To the dismay of many states, they can be penalized if they reduce educational funding. States will now be forced to increase their spending on education in line with the increases voted on in the past five years.

Summed up by Charles Dervarics from, other aspects of the HEA bill would:

  • Require colleges and student loan companies to adopt strict codes of conduct;
  • Streamline the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, including a two-page FAFSA-EZ for low-income families;
  • Give students advance information on textbook pricing to help them plan expenses; and
  • Provide support for graduate programs at Hispanic-serving institutions.

There is more good news for students. The HEA bill sets increase the availability of the federal Pell Grants from $4,800 to $6000 in 2009 and up to $8000 by 2014 and federal loans for students who attend minority-serving institutions. Qualified students can receive Pell Grants yearly, as opposed to just for the current term.

While the immediate affects of the bill may not be felt immediately, hopefully students will have less of a financial burden when they try to apply for their loans in 2009.

H.R. 4137 Passed by Congress

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